Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz (left) and Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) President George Da Pont (right) speak to media to provide an update on Canadian food safety in Calgary, Alta., today. — Photo by The Canadian Press
CALGARY — The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says there was a delay getting information on tainted meat from an Alberta packing plant at the centre of an extensive beef recall.
Agency president George Da Pont says Canadian inspectors asked for information from XL Foods Inc. on Sept. 6 about “critical points” where E. coli might become a problem, but didn’t get it right away.
That was two days after E. coli was found by U.S. inspectors in a shipment of beef heading south of the border. Da Pont said Canadian inspectors made a similar discovery within hours in another batch of beef. Both were traced to the XL plant in Brooks, Alta., and a food safety inspection began, he said.
When asked why there wasn’t an immediate recall of beef from the plant, Da Pont said it wasn’t necessary.
“We had every bit of that product accounted for and under control and we immediately launched a food safety investigation, which is our normal procedure to ensure there were no other problems,” Da Pont said Wednesday.
He explained that the U.S. shipment was stopped at the border. Some of the second, tainted batch found by Canadian inspectors had gone to distribution, but “we immediately got it back. None of it had reached the retail level.”
A recall of ground beef was eventually issued Sept. 16 and has been expanded numerous times since to include more than 1,500 other beef products across Canada.
Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, who toured the XL plant in Brooks, Alta., earlier Wednesday, told the Calgary news conference the government’s “highest priority” is to keep the food Canadians eat safe.
“That is why the XL Foods plant will only resume operation when the president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has confirmed in writing to me that the health of Canadians is not at risk,” Ritz said.
“Canadian consumers have always been, and will continue to be, the government of Canada’s first priority when it comes to food safety,” Ritz said.
The news conference was abruptly ended by Ritz’s assistant when Da Pont started speaking about the delay in getting information from XL.
Da Pont said one of the problems with current laws is that the CFIA has limited authority to compel companies to provide immediate documentation.
That is being addressed in food safety legislation yet to be passed, he said.
The government has come under fire for its handling of the E. coli scare. There have been questions raised by opposition politicians and others about whether the food safety system is working and whether there are enough inspectors.